Some parents in Walton County are mobilizing to take on how they believe world history is teaching religion to students in the Walton County Public School system, in particular the religion of Islam.
A Facebook page on the subject is quickly gaining momentum and a petition drive has been started, titled Walton County – Petition to opt out of religious teaching. The petition, addressed to Georgia Public Schools, asks that parents be given a listing of all parts of the curriculum that teaches about religion in all cases and in all grades, and that a way be devised that enables parents to opt out of the curriculum that teaches religions views contradictory to the student’s particular religion.
Up until now, officials with WCPS said they have only received two calls that they are aware of that addresses this particular issue.
“Teachers, school, and district administrators are happy to discuss concerns with parents about their student or questions about the curriculum,” WCPS spokesperson Kim Embry said.
The parents who are concerned, however, are taking a group approach to the issue.
“I have three wonderful sons that attend Youth Elementary and Youth Middle School,” said Heather Kuykendall. “My husband is the pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, GA. Our children attended a Christian school until 2012. We felt at ease allowing our children to attend Youth Elementary and Youth Middle School… until now.”
Kuykendall went on to say that she has just recently become aware of the issue related to the possibility of Islam being taught in the public schools and has now become one of the members of the Facebook page titled “Walton County School’s Islamic Curriculum.” Kuykendall said she understands that a general history of world religions is being taught, but she has been hearing things that have her very concerned. Parents of some of the students in WCPS are reporting that some students have brought home school material claiming that “Allah is all knowing and powerful and created the universe” and another said that a student had to bears witness “there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.”
Walton County parents are not the first to raise objections to religion being taught in school through the Common Core curriculum. In fact, there have been similar instances nationwide. A parent reportedly pulled his son out of school in Los Angeles in November last year, as reported by KTLA TV, and earlier this month a similar incident in Tennessee was reported on shoebat.com.
Officials with WCPS, however, say this curriculum is not anything new as a result of Common Core and has been in place for several years.
“The Social Studies standards for middle school have been in place for nine years. They are Georgia Performance Standards and were in place before common core was adopted,” said Rusty Linder, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. “The standards teach students about world cultures including history, geography, climates, languages, education, traditions, religions, and systems of governance. Students learn that the forces which shape culture have an impact which is relevant to them today.”
Parents in Walton County are making plans to address their concerns with the Walton County Board of Education in October as a first step. The long term plan is to ask the state to formalize a way where parents who have strong objections to their students being taught any doctrine from another religion can opt out of this portion of the curriculum. Kuykendall’s husband, who is a pastor, said asking students to learn, according to the Muslim faith, that Allah is the one true God, is equivalent to asking students to learn that, from the Christian faith perspective, the God of the Bible is the Only God of Creation and faith in His Son Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation from sin.
Many of the parents commenting in the Facebook page say that they don’t have a problem with the type of religion practiced being taught as part of a culture that the students are learning about, but object to teaching students at a middle school age the tenets of the actual belief system. Steve Alsup, who has two children in high school and one in middle school, said he feels that the whole truth is not being taught. He feels that if Islam is being taught, then he believes the radical side of Islam also should be taught.
“The information I’ve seen from what my daughter was learning about Islam was simply half the truth, which is a whole lie in my opinion. If they’re going to learn about Islam, then teach the whole truth, not some watered down version,” Alsup said. “I dont have any qualms with anyone’s other beliefs. If you choose to follow Mohammed/Islam, that’s your business and right. If you choose to follow Jesus/Christianity, then that’s your right as well. With that being said, our ‘public’ school teachers have no right to teach what’s being called ‘history’ to our children. All religions- Islam, Christianity etc…all share one thing and that’s – faith. I personally have faith in Jesus Christ, which makes me a Christian. That being said, I definitely do not want any teacher that doesn’t share my same beliefs teaching my children about Christianity. It’s not a history lesson! I’m sure a Muslim would not want a Christian teaching their children about Islam.”
Embry shared some of the Sixth Grade curriculum under the Georgia Performance Standards covering “Europe Today.” In it students are required to learn the diversity of European culture as it applies to languages, religions and literacy rates. In the bigger picture, they are required to describe the cultural characteristics of Europe, compare the different cultures including the major religions, which include Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Students are expected to understand that the culture of a society is shaped by its religion, customs, traditions and government. It requires that students learn the basic tenets of each religion, holy days, holy books and houses of worship, founders and primary European location of each monotheistic religion.
In Seventh Grade, students cover similar topics in “The Modern Middle East.” In covering the subject at that level, students again focus on some of the religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They also learn about the historical reasons for the 1948 establishment of Israel, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and Zionism in Europe. The major religions and beliefs are taught as part of the culture.
There are many parents who do not have a problem with the way World History is being taught. Loganville resident Lori Duff, whose family is Jewish, said neither she nor her children have a problem with it at all. She said her son, who is in eighth grade, has already covered the material and she has a daughter about to cover it as well.
“Information is power, and I am not so insecure in my faith that learning about another in a multicultural society threatens it,” Duff said.”The more my kids know about other religions and cultures, the more they will be able to succeed in an increasingly international workforce.”
Monroe resident Chrystal Carter said that, after looking into it, she doesn’t think there is as much to worry about as people seem to think.
“I don’t have any concerns about other religions being taught to middle school and high school age children,” Carter said. “I think it’s important for them to learn about other cultures’ beliefs as long as they aren’t forcing children to pray or worship to another God.”
But, like some of the other parents who have expressed concern, Alsup said he would like to see the schools stop teaching children with “young, impressionable minds,” about religion completely. He said he plans on joining the other parents at the October Board of Education meeting.